Homes in the northern U.S. are treated to a measure of effortless outdoor decorating for fall: Nature does most of the work by turning the trees a vivid palette of reds, oranges and golds. Add a pumpkin or two on the doorstep and the look is complete.
In the rest of the country, it takes a bit more creativity to add the season’s colors and textures to the exterior of a home. Southern California designer Betsy Burnham says poorly done fall decorating can look out of place in warmer climates. Many homeowners aiming for a festive fall look go overboard with big decorations and harsh shades of orange.
But with a light touch and some strategic choices, homes anywhere can be made more attractive through the beauty of the season. Here, Burnham and two other designers — Brian Patrick Flynn of the Flynnside Out design blog and Lee Kleinhelter, owner of the Pieces design store in Atlanta — offer advice on doing outdoor fall decorating right.
If you’ve been hanging up the same fall wreath on your front door for several years now, Burnham suggests a fresh approach.
“It doesn’t have to be a wreath,” she says. “It can be wheat sheaths. It can be pussy willows. Just something that seems autumnal.”
“I usually stay away from corn husks as door decor,” he says, “and I also skip things that have been done a million times, like scarecrows. Instead, I like to simply play with yellow- and orange-toned plants and a variety of pumpkins.”
Kleinhelter suggests using “rustic elements to complement this time of year,” such as birch logs, twigs and vines. They can be left in their natural colors or painted white or a soft shade of gold.
She also likes decorating with “the fiery fall foliage of gingko and sugar maple trees,” which can be potted and clustered together in simple arrangements around a front door or in an outdoor entertaining area. “They make such a beautiful impact, really popping with color,” Kleinhelter says.
“If you’ve got space, an outdoor fireplace will allow you to host guests and also take in the amazing foliage,” Flynn says. “I have an outdoor fireplace in my own mountain house, and I deck it out in fall tones each year and just escape outside all day long.”
Outdoor cushions in summery colors can be replaced with warmer, autumnal shades. And Burnham suggests using clusters of scented candles outside in cinnamon, clove or other seasonal fragrances.
Depending on your climate, Flynn even suggests hosting Thanksgiving dinner outside. Space heaters and a roaring fire can keep guests warm in most parts of the country, even on a November evening. And candlelight on the table adds to the drama.
“If you’ve got an outdoor spot that’s covered and has a great view,” Flynn says, “why not take the biggest dinner of the year outdoors?”
CHOOSE THE RIGHT SHADES
All three designers are fans of white gourds and white pumpkins. “We use them every year one way or another,” Kleinhelter says. “Grouping them on table settings or outside in multiples by the door is an easy arrangement.”
You can decorate with gourds and pumpkins without adding “that crazy pumpkin orange” to your home’s exterior, Burnham says. Instead, pick other shades of orange and yellow that feel seasonal but aren’t quite so bright.
“Orange and yellow are the two colors most associated with fall style,” Flynn says. But “to get these tones right, you’ve got to stick with those that have just the right amount of brown in them. Otherwise the intended look will end up being somewhat childish or even summery. Stick with mustard tones rather than canary yellow, and as far as orange goes, it’s best to use burnt pumpkin tones rather than red oranges or yellow oranges.”
You can also mix in neutral shades of tan and soft brown. “And I always like to throw my own spin on it all,” Flynn says, “by incorporating black.”
USE WHAT YOU HAVE
“I don’t think you need to go buy a new ‘themed’ look for a season,” Kleinhelter says. “Take something you already have and rethink it, like the natural elements in your yard, and come up with a creative yet simple way to use them.”
White lights you bought for Christmas decorating can be just the thing to make fall outdoor decorating look special. “We have jumbo vine balls we are going to wrap in lights and scatter in the yard,” Kleinhelter says, in “a ‘pop art’ kind of way.”
“You can never go wrong with white lights,” she says. “You can do a lot with just framing your door with really beautiful white lights,” perhaps woven through twigs or vines.
The look is glamorous, and also practical: If you’ve lined your front door with white lights woven through twigs in the fall, simply add some pine or holly branches to the mix when it’s time to decorate in December.